Today's average European Union family looks more and more unconventional compared to the past, with nearly one of every two marriages ending in divorce and a third of births out of wedlock, according to new statistics.
Tradition is losing currency
To mark the International Day of the Family on Monday, the EU statistics office Eurostat published figures painting anything but a traditional picture of the European family unit.
Some 2.2 million marriages were registered in 2004, or 4.8 marriages per 1,000 inhabitants. But nearly a million divorces -- 2.1 per 1,000 inhabitants -- were registered in the same period.
It appears Cypriots, Danes and Maltese are the most marrying kind in this union of some 450 million people in 25 member states. The Cypriots clocked up 7.2 nuptials per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by Denmark with seven and the Maltese with six.
At the other end of the marriage market come the Slovenes with 3.3 per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by the Belgians with 4.1 and the Greeks with 4.2.
Meanwhile the Czechs and Lithuanians lead the field when it comes to divorce with 3.2 per 1,000 inhabitants each, followed by the Estonians and the Belgians.
Almost half of all children in Scandinavia and the Baltics are born out of wedlock
Malta, Ireland and Italy, where the influence of the Roman Catholic Church is particularly strong, have the lowest divorce rates. In fact, Malta has none because divorce is not allowed on the Mediterranean island. In Ireland and Italy the rate stands at respectively 0.7 and 0.8 divorces per 1,000 inhabitants.
But the power of religion does not explain all and is reflected only partially in the birth rate. Ireland has the highest birth rate in the EU with 15.2 per 1,000 inhabitants, followed by France with 12.7, and Britain, Denmark and Luxembourg each with 12.
Italy and Poland -- another strong Catholic country -- meanwhile register a birth rate below the EU average of 10.5 with 9.7 and 9.3 respectively. The Germans are the least prolific Europeans when it comes to begetting, with a rate of only 8.6, closely behind the Latvians with 8.8 and the Lithuanians with 8.9.
Nearly a third -- 31.6 percent -- of the 4.8 million babies born in the European Union in 2004 were born out of wedlock.
The phenomenon is particularly noticeable up north in Scandinavia and the three Baltic member states with a ratio of 57.8 percent in Estonia, 55.4 percent in Sweden, 45.4 percent in Denmark and 45.3 percent in Latvia. France also has a relatively high level of 45.2 percent.
Britain has the highest proportion of one-parent families in the EU
The lowest levels of children born out of wedlock are to be found in southern Europe with only 3.3 percent in Cyprus, 4.9 percent in Greece and 14.9 percent in Italy. Among the eastern European newcomers to the EU, Poland has a rate of 17.2 percent. By contrast, Ireland in the west has an EU average rate of 31.4 percent.
The Cypriots take first prize for family size, with 10 percent of families made up of three or more children, compared to a 4 percent average throughout the 25 membe states.
Britain has the largest proportion of one-parent families, with 24 percent of households thus designated, followed by Belgium with 18 percent, Estonia with 17 percent, Denmark and Germany with 16 percent each, Latvia with 15 percent and France with 14 percent.
Household expenditure reveals an almost equally distributed preponderance of expenditure on housing and attendant costs such gas, electricity and water taking up 21 percent of family budgets on average.
Only the Cypriots, Lithuanians, Maltese and Portuguese spend more on food and transport than on housing. Meanwhile the British and Austrians nowadays spend more money on leisure and cultural activities than on food.